We spent the New Year holiday at the Salton Sea. The morning of New Year’s Day was a lazy one but we discussed, with great anticipation, what our first bird of the year would be – an important omen for the upcoming year, according to many birders. I jokingly warned that I would close my eyes if anyone noticed a European Starling, secretly hoping for a promising sign after a tough year.
We left our cabin and drove down a desolate road, with my dear friend Carly and her daughter Lina in tow. Lina was excited to find our first bird but quickly commented on the scarcity of bird activity. Carly spoke to her about the value of habitat, and I remarked that this was a terrific area to scan the telephone poles for raptors. A few moments later, we all noticed a bird on a telephone wire. “LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE”, Carly and I yelled in unison. Squealing and laughter ensued, and my heart swelled.
A bit of back story. Loggerhead Shrikes are quite striking songbirds – with the habits of raptors! These masked “butcher birds” will stun or kill prey with their powerful beaks. Lacking a raptor’s talons, they will then skewer them on thorns or barbs to store for future meals (or maybe just as a display of their badassedness?). I saw my first Loggerhead Shrikes a couple of years ago while camping at the Carrizo Plains National Monument. From our campsite, we spotted a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes and just moments later Carly discovered evidence of their crimes: the exoskeleton of a grasshopper impaled on a thorn.
We were both reminiscing about this sighting on 12/31 and Carly reflected that this continued to be her favorite bird and spirit animal. After the talk of this bird, and all my chatter about avoiding an undesirable bird of the year, it was just so fortuitous for this to be the very first bird of 2018….and made all the more special to share the discovery with Carly and Lina. I am still reflecting on what this may portend for the upcoming year. Perhaps I am meant to sing a sweet song but still be a badass!
Speaking of badass birds, one of my other favorite sightings of the trip was this Peregrine Falcon. He was perched alongside Poe Rd., not far from the Salton Sea shoreline, full of tasty shorebird treats. The word “peregrine” means “wanderer” – another good omen for my year ahead!
The Salton Sea is such a fascinating place to explore. We watched thousands of Snow Geese take flight at sunset and shared the shoreline with hunters. We saw many American Kestrels perched on telephone wires running alongside agricultural roads and watched Gambel’s Quail congregate at a feeder. We found my 300th California bird of 2017 (with not a whole lot of time to spare!): the Stilt Sandpiper. And, managed to find the time to soak in the hot springs! A few highlights: